A Franklin County grand jury has indicted a former Roman Catholic high-school choir director on 13 sex charges.
Prosecutor Ron O’Brien said yesterday that Zachary R. Ruppel, 27, was indicted on single counts of compelling prostitution, importuning and disseminating matter harmful to juveniles and on 10 counts of pandering obscenity involving a minor.
Ruppel, of Lunar Drive on the North Side, was choir director at St. Francis DeSales High School in Columbus from 2010 until June.
According to the indictment, the importuning and compelling-prostitution charges involved a 15-year-old boy and the disseminating charge involved a 17-year-old youth. Both were DeSales students.
O’Brien said that between February 2012 and July 2013, Ruppel solicited a sex act and nude pictures from several students and sent the nude pictures to other individuals.
Some of the charges are felonies that could result in years in prison if Ruppel is convicted, O’B rien said.
A Columbus police investigation over the summer concluded that Ruppel had solicited nude pictures and sex acts from juveniles in exchange for membership in the All-Ohio State Fair Youth Choir. Choir directors recommend students for membership in the fair choir each year.
At least one of the youths named in the indictment was in the state-fair choir this year.
Ruppel was a volunteer member of the state-fair choir staff in 2011.
He was charged in Franklin County Municipal Court on July 21 with two counts of disseminating matter harmful to juveniles and one count of compelling prostitution. Those complaints said he had asked a 15-year-old boy to engage in oral sex for $100 and sent photos of male genitalia to a 17-year-old.
Those charges were dropped so prosecutors could seek an indictment.
After Ruppel was charged, more youths contacted police to say that they, too, were victims.
George Jones, director of commuinications for the Catholic Diocese of Columbus, issued this statement: "St. Francis DeSales High School and the Office of Catholic Schools has cooperated fully with law enforcement during the course of their investigation of Zachary Ruppel, and school administration has reached out to student, parents, and teachers to come forward with any information that may be pertinent to this investigation. At the time of Mr. Ruppel's resignation at the end of the 2012-13 school year, no outstanding conduct or disciplinary issues were known to school administration. Harassment or abuse of any kind is not tolerated or permitted within our schools; each school has established programs and guidelines to offer assistance and protection to any person who feels threatened within our schools. Teachers and administrators alike are instructed to immediately notify their local children services agency if made aware of any form of child abuse, either within or beyond the school environment."
Detectives investigating Ruppel also looked into who knew about his actions and when they knew it.
State-fair choir director Charles R. Snyder learned about Ruppel’s actions in July and told fair officials, setting off the investigation, police said.
Police later learned from Blaise Baker, Snyder’s attorney, that Snyder was told in April 2012 that Ruppel had had “inappropriate” online conversations with a former fair-choir member and a current fair-choir member that year. Snyder spoke with both youths, reported the information to the choir’s attorney, and notified Ruppel that he could no longer work with the choir, police said.
Police have sent their investigation of Snyder to the prosecutor’s office.
Virgil Strickler, the state fair’s general manager, suspended Snyder from the 200-member choir on July 11, weeks before this year’s fair opened.
By Kathy Lynn Gray - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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